Divya Srinivasan’s What I Am

h1 July 22nd, 2021 by jules


We all contain multitudes, but for those who forget, there is Divya Srinivasan’s newest picture book. What I Am (Viking) will be on shelves next month and was inspired by an experience her sister had. She was washing her hands in a restaurant bathroom when someone at the next sink looked up at her and asked: “What are you?”

On the title page spread of What I Am, an unseen, unnamed person asks our protagonist, an Indian American girl, the same question: In a oversized, somewhat intimidating speech bubble above her head, we read: “What are you?”

I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t answer, and they left. But I kept thinking about it.

In her undeniably spunky and forthright first-person voice, she tells us she’s a girl. She’ a human. She’s a human animal. She’s a daughter. She’s a granddaughter. She’s “Amma to my guys.” (Pictured here are her favorite plush toys.)

We learn how she likes to eat. (She’s a vegetarian.) In my favorite spread, we see her hand next to her classmates’ hands and see that hers is dark but also pale. “In summer, I’m different colors.” Pictured here are her tanned feet, but her frequent flip-flop use has left white lines on her feet.

We learn about her habits; her inner life; her feelings; her hobbies; and more. We are reminded that people can be more than one thing at one time — or at various times (she loves to sing and dance for her grandparents, but she freezes on the stage of her school community).

While all humans can inhabit multiple identities, unfortunately these kinds of insensitive questions (“what are you?”) are often lobbed at children of color, particularly those from multiracial families. “What I am is more than I can say,” the girl summarizes at the book’s close. How elegantly Srinivasan captures that in these pages with expressive illustrations, rendered with assured lines and an absence of visual clutter that lets this young girl take the stage — and educate us all in the way of her multi-dimensional self.

Here are some spreads. …


“I am a girl. I am a human. I am a human animal.”
(Click spread to enlarge)



(Two images above: Click either to see spread in its entirety)



(Two images above: Click either to see spread in its entirety)



(Two images above: Click either to see spread in its entirety)


(Click cover to enlarge)


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WHAT I AM. Copyright © 2021 by Divya Srinivasan. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Viking, New York.

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